In-depth series of teachings on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and how practitioners in today’s world might approach traditional texts written hundreds of years ago.
Working hard; participants’ experience with meditation on experiencing what one seeks to avoid by exiting into impatience; translation issues around “perseverance, diligence, effort, etc.”; working hard the right way; virtuous, spiritual and practical aspects of working hard; passivity vs laziness; 3 types of laziness and remedies; translation issues around laziness; 3 types of diligence; 3 efforts; natural enthusiasm in working hard at virtue; efforts on one’s spiritual path; working hard with no sense of effort; meditation assignment for upcoming week on exploring one’s experience with enthusiasm and lack of enthusiasm in everyday life. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 15.
Ken: Okay, this is really important. In terms of being able to live awake this is really very important.
Art: It was my experience that whenever I felt impatience arise, and felt it moving towards anger, and whenever I was being unwilling to experience was different or could be different and was different many, many times. And I would try to sort of find the lowest common denominator of that thing I was unwilling to experience. And I came up with different formulations such as being unwilling to experience whatever it was at that point. Being unwilling to experience the annihilation of self.
Ken: Go one level above that. What were some examples of the kinds of things?
Student: I have a daughter who is very demanding of attention. She’s very present. [Laughter]
Ken: She reminds you when you’re not. Yes, children tend to do that.
Student: I just don’t want to be there for her all of the time. And the feeling I got is that I feel like I’m being erased. I feel like I’m being crushed. I feel like I’m being annihilated. And I don’t like that and it makes me impatient and I’ve learned not to react with overt anger, but I see myself becoming sullen and what’s that word, negative, but not really—you know what I mean. So there’s that one.
What else? I got impatient with this assignment. Never went into overt anger but I could feel my impatience and my unwillingness. Well there were all sorts of formulations such as, “Why do I have to come up with words about this? Why do I have to…” I want to be right. I know that’s it. “How can I be right here? I can’t be right. Whatever I say it’s always wrong.” So that’s what I was unwilling to experience—that feeling.
Ken: Okay, this is very good because last week when we took up people’s experience, people weren’t actually reporting what the feeling or experience was, they were jumping to various conclusions and stories. And I’ve warned everybody this is very, very fast. I think that’s what you found, right?
Ken: Okay. The conceptual mind is far too slow here. That’s being confirmed by modern neuroscience. What we’re doing in our practice is developing a level of attention which allows us to pick this stuff up before the conceptual mind remembers, or anything like that. Which is one of the reasons why you may have thought, “This dumb assignment, why do I have to do it?” Because the actual conceptual mind was behind it. But you started to be able to pick up those little things like your daughter, as soon as you turned off from your daughter, she’s there, saying, “Dad, where are you?” And you can thank the neurons for that. This is the level of attention that we need if we actually want to live awake. Because that’s how fast stuff is happening all the time. And it’s a non-conceptual awareness, which once we start paying this kind of attention, we discover we can actually live that way. But it means that we are much more in the actual stream of experience that is going on with us, rather than the way we’re used to, which is living in a kind of story. You follow? So this is very good. Anybody else, Lynea?
Lynea: I found that fairly consistently, impatience is related to sort of the same old stories that other things I used to avoid. If that makes sense. Basically it’s either unworthiness or this wanting to avoid a feeling of isolation. And it comes up in very mundane circumstances, even a very basic situation that triggers impatience. I realize that that’s what’s operating underneath it.
Ken: So you’ve been able to see a certain consistency in that. We’ve narrowed it down to three or four core experiences, or recurrent feelings, which, I think you’re quite right, you link to stories, which run in us. What’s it like to experience, say, the isolation, even if you just touch into it?
Lynea: It’s physically very uncomfortable. It’s like a bleeding heart, I have to sit in that.
Ken: Okay good, anybody else? Chuck?
Chuck: Well along with the isolation I have this feeling that, you know, you’re in a hurry and everybody and everything has come to a complete halt and you have a feeling that you’re just not going to live long enough for this line to end. Maybe in a bank. Waiting in a bank or in a grocery store. Come on, come on. Pretty soon, you sort of feel like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. You can’t just sort of sizzle away and die.
Ken: Yes, I can resonate with that and I think you’ve put it very well. This is very primitive stuff. This is very deeply conditioned stuff. Probably in the limbic system or something like that operating. It’s very, very fast, is very deeply conditioned and has absolutely nothing to do with what is going on. Something in what is going on triggers this response and what you’re describing is how grossly exaggerated the response is compared to what’s actually going on, which is an indication that it’s a very primitive part of that is reacting at that point.
Chuck: It has very little to do with the reality of the situation. In five minutes I’m going to be out of there and everything is going to be fine.
Ken: But for those few microseconds. It’s the end of the world. Okay. This is very good. I’m very glad you perservered in this because this is what living awake involves. Having that level of awareness operating all the time. So like your daughter, Jim.
Jim: This is not about my daughters?
Ken: No, they’re just useful to you here because they’re very tuned in. So, how many of you want to live that awake? [Laughter] You have something to say here?
Chuck: I theoretically do, but the actual experience of it seems rather daunting.
Ken: This is like Yogi Berra. In theory there’s no difference between practice and theory. In practice there is. But that’s what’s involved. And there are many misconceptions. I’ve been doing this mentoring group connected with this coaching association that I belong to, and I was asked to do a group on mindfulness and meditation and so I called it Mindfulness and Beyond because I wanted to go a little deeper. Well, at the first meeting there were twelve people. The second meeting there were eight. The third meeting there were three, and that’s after I sent out an email reminder, which I didn’t for the first two. And I’ve got the fourth meeting in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how many will be there. Probably be more than three, probably five.
In the first meeting I introduced them to meditation practice. I just said very bluntly, “If you don’t do half hour of meditation for the duration of this group, then you won’t really get anything out of it.” That got a lot of people out of there. But the eight people who showed up the next time, most of them, of course, hadn’t done the meditation, but this time I showed them what was involved in being present in a coaching interaction, and I had two people, I had a couple of people do some role plays there and pointed out exactly where the person had exited, and asked them what they didn’t want to experience at that point. They could feel that. They were really, really shocked because they were just doing a nice thing. So the third meeting, that’s why we only had three. And one of them said, “You mean we have to experience all of this stuff?”
Yeah, that’s what being awake involves. And when we develop a level of attention which allows us to experience that stuff without falling into distraction, then we’re less likely to be impatient. Far less likely to be impatient because there’s so much more we’re able to experience. Chuck?
Chuck: It’s happening whether we’re experiencing it or not. We’re aware of it and its going through our bodies and we have this feeling whether we’re conscious of it or not.
Ken: That’s correct. It’s happening but when we’re not aware of it and are not in the experience of it then it just runs and triggers all kinds of stuff, and one can make a case that we’re not determining our behavior. It’s totally pattern driven when it’s like that. When we’re aware of it those feelings come up, and because we experience those things the possibility of choice actually opens.
Chuck: I think that being able to see the situation, you can see other people when they get caught up in their own reactive patterns. You see them standing in line and having a hissing fit. And you can sort of empathize with them.
Ken: You’re quite correct. It increases one’s compassion. Not in the sense of superiority. It’s more like, “Yeah I know that, I know exactly what that’s like.” And you appreciate the difficulties that others have in their lives and so you become much more tolerant, and you’re also more able to interact with them because you don’t get caught in the confusion.
Randye: I learned something about myself that I’ve seen in other people many times.
Ken: From this exercise?
Randye: Yeah, very clearly. Where it came to the forefront seeing it in others. Was watching how people respond in a New York City subway car when the car gets stuck between stations in the tunnels, and watching people sit in a car that can’t move and you can’t get out—watching how they respond to it. Many respond with a lot of impatience, and there’s a supreme egotistical arrogance about that impatience. It’s like, “Who do they think they’re doing this to? This is me that can’t get to work on time”, or whatever. And I kept focusing on that question, “What am I avoiding?” I’m avoiding the idea that I’m not the center of the universe. I’m not general manager of the universe. Which I thought I’d resigned that position a long time ago, but each and every time impatience came up it was the sense of pushing against whatever was happening and not being able to control it.
Ken: Yes, that’s right. The sense of self becomes very acute doesn’t it?
Randye: Yeah, so the question, “What was I avoiding?” I was avoiding the experience of being non-self.
Ken: Ultimately, yes. That goes back to what Joe was saying, you experience what is, that’s true. But what I want to do is to—and while that’s quite true, it’s not terribly useful to us unless you have a level of attention. What is really useful to us is to go to the one step earlier where you get the specific flavors of those feelings and start experiencing those, because that leads you, that’s where you build the level of attention that allows you to experience non-self.
Randye: I didn’t say I was experiencing that. I’m saying that’s what I was pushing against.
Ken: Good, anybody else? Okay. That’s very good. Now we’re going to turn to perseverance.
Ken: And I don’t know which book to use. I apologize because there are certain words I wanted to look up here and I simply haven’t had the time to get them.
The first thing is, this actually is a fairly difficult term to find the right English. And part of that is the continued influence of Calvinism and Victorianism in the English language. The Protestant work ethic and all of that stuff which makes a virtue out of this joyless work, working hard.
Cara: There are several words in Sanskrit that encompass perseverance, persistence and diligence, so I would assume that that would carry over to the Tibetan tradition, at least in terms of the spiritual function of the words.
Ken: I don’t know the Sanskrit but the word in Tibetan tsöndru (pron. brtsön grus) and there are other words that I can think of and we have a number of words in English but they all have different connotations. So there’s something quite deeply different in the way the various languages…
Cara: Like perseverance makes me think of being chased by a mob or something like that.
Ken: Yeah, well there’s perseverance, strenuousness, diligence, effort, but as one goes through this—I remember many, many years ago when I was first studying this, the synonym for this word is enthusiasm. And this is a totally different way of doing it. So when I was working on this earlier today I thought that it’s not really a translation, but one way we might think about this is working hard. Working hard at something. Which one of the reasons I like it is, it’s Anglo-Saxon English; it’s not Latinate English. Diligence from the French or the Latin roots, which all the other ones are: persevere, strenuous. Yes, I think strenuous should be. And diligence, just means working hard. Now there are different ways of working hard and what I want to do this evening is try to open that up and get a sense of what working hard looks like in a way that doesn’t create further problems, because you can create a lot of problems by working hard the wrong way.
So let’s start into it. It’s the usual seven points but we won’t even bother with that. The first bit is the argument against laziness and for working hard. I’m going to use that term rather than strenuous or perseverance or whatever. And again it runs through the spiritual, the virtuous and the practical. Those three things, you know, a lazy person—you know if you’re lazy [page 181 in Guenther]:
A lazy person is neither liberal nor knowledgeable. He does not work for others and is far from enlightenment. By strenuousness the positive qualities do not get obscured. The royal treasure of infinite transcending awareness born from wisdom is obtained.
So it’s using rational processes I also want to talk a bit about this word laziness. The word lazy is a very pejorative word in our culture and actually I think it’s pretty pejorative in these other languages. When I was working on the basic meditation section in Wake Up to Your Life, there’s also a long section of traditional teachings on dealing with laziness. When I looked at the remedies for laziness and what they were really aiming at, it seemed to me that what they are really talking about had more to do with unwillingness, of which laziness is simply one expression. And so this notion of strenuousness or diligence or perseverance that is being talked about here, it’s why I want to look at it in terms of working hard. What prevents you from working hard at practice? What gets in the way of that? And there are a lot of things that get in the way of that and laziness is only one of them.
So I’m not sure what other words would be, we could try using unwillingness. I’m not sure it works in all these contexts, as you’ll see when we go through them, but I don’t feel either laziness or perseverance or strenuousness or any of these terms actually cover the spectrum of meanings that this is talking about. So there are translation problems. Lynea?
Lynea: What’s the difference between laziness and passivity?
Ken: That’s a very good question and I’m glad you asked that. Because I think there is an component of passivity that’s being discussed here too. Laziness is more willful than passivity. I think there’s a bit more active ignoring. Passivity seems to be or could be, yeah, it’s actually a very interesting question.
Do you remember you may recall a framework I offered some time ago on willingness, know-how and capacity? Laziness, I would say, is more the lack of willingness. Whereas passivity could be due to a lack of any of the three. If you don’t have the capacity you’re not going to do it and that could easily look like passivity. If you don’t know how to do it you’re not to do something and that could easily look like you tend to be passive in situations where that was expected. “I’m just going to sit this one out.” But that’s not necessarily laziness.
Lynea: For some reason I’m making an association here that may be entirely my own.
Ken: Just to let me encourage you, I got another two or three emails expressing great appreciation for people’s openness here.
Lynea: Okay fair enough. Laziness. For some reason I’m feeling anger relates to laziness and fear relates to passivity, and I don’t know why.
Ken: Your internal experience of laziness has a flavor of anger with it and your internal experience of passivity has a flavor of fear. Am I understanding you?
Lynea: My internal experience right now when I hear these terms, so.
Ken: Interesting. Well, okay, that’s what I want to pursue because I think we tend to get angry at laziness.
Lynea: I’m thinking of anger meaning, “I’m not going to do that” and laziness and passivity meaning fear of unknown, something unknown.
Ken: You’re looking at laziness as a form of aggression, and laziness is an expression of aggression in a certain way and passivity is an expression of fear. Well you left out a couple, what about passive-aggressive? I think there’s certainly merit in what you say. I’m not sure it’s comprehensive. I think that there are, I think but because I haven’t thought about this, that there may be forms of laziness which aren’t acts, aren’t expressions of aggression, but it’s something I’d like to think about. Randye, do you have something?
Randye: Actually I have a very different take on passive, which is neither lazy nor anger and impatience. I’m thinking of like Gandhi’s passive resistance which was quite effortful. The sit-in strike. There’s intention, there’s purpose.
Ken: Yeah, but I don’t think that’s the kind of passivity we are talking about here at all.
Randye: But I mean it’s a non-doing but it has a purpose.
Ken: Yeah, I think the passivity that Lynea, correct me if I’m wrong, is where you just let things happen to you. Whereas passive, that non-violence approach of passive resistance is very, very powerful because of the intention behind it.
Randye: So that would imply that Lynea’s form of passivity lacks intention.
Ken: That’s a good point. That’s a very good point. Joe?
Joe: There is a strong element of desire and pleasure in my laziness.
Ken: Yes, I think that can be too, so I don’t think it’s always an expression of aggression. That’s very good. Thank you.
Cara: But I think in what you’re talking about. I do that but then I feel guilty sometimes.
Ken: [Laughter] Joe never feels guilty, he’s beyond that! [Laughter]
Cara: But I think that in those times where you take a rest and are not as persistent as you are, then there’s an element of guilt.
Ken: Okay. The essence of working hard in this quite specialized sense, is to strive for the good and wholesome. Now it sounds very simple, but you don’t actually see much of that in a lot of people’s lives, where they’re working hard at the good and wholesome. It’s an old fashioned idea. You know you’re meant to be achieving things, you’re setting goals and achieving them. The cultivation of a deep level of goodness and wholesomeness in one’s life is something that is not actually valued in this society very much. Now, I mean behaving is valued, but really what I’m thinking of is when you look at what is presented as what you should be aspiring to or bringing about in your life. It isn’t being a good person. It’s being beautiful, smart, rich all of these things. But what I’m translating here as a seeking out what is good and wholesome, is something that I don’t see that many people doing. Maybe because I live in the wrong circles or something like that. Yes?
Cara: I think that this is like a constant stumbling block that we have with the word wholesome. Whenever we visit, like from what you just said, I grew up in Colorado Springs where the emphasis is on piety and within that piousness are all of the things that you’re talking about but with an emphasis on the Judeo-Christian model of that. Seeking and being.
Ken: There’s a piece, I think it was in the New York Times on the purity balls. There is a seeking of the good and wholesome in that, but it’s very unbalanced or distorted in some way. I see where they’re trying to go but they’re trying to go about it in the wrong way, or at least that’s how it seems to me. But it’s fascinating to look at these things. It’s useful.
Cara: I just say that because I think there are people in the world who do work towards a wholesome lifestyle. The thing that is always a detractor for me is that there is always an element of judgment. At least where I experience this.
Ken: That’s a very good point. Because, when I’m talking about good and wholesome here, I am talking about one that is completely free from judgment.
Ken: There are three varieties of laziness: lassitude, idleness and gross laziness. Kenchog Gyaltsen’s translations I think are just as problematic. It’s on page 214 in Kenchog Gyaltsen where they have listlessness and disregard and gross laziness. Those are his translations, but I think we have to look at what is actually being described.
The first one is where you just lay around and you don’t do much. Addiction to the pleasures of mental inertia: sleepiness, restfulness and dreaminess, sleeping all the time just lying around, and daydreaming etc.
The treatment here is to become aware of your death. I think it was Mark Twain who said, “Nothing concentrates the mind like the presence of death,” or the proximity of death. It arouses all that stuff.
Ken: The second kind—Guenther uses the term faintheartedness and Kenchog Gyaltsen uses the term discouragement. So this form of quotation marks, laziness, when I read these, I really don’t think it’s the right term at all, is coming from a lack of confidence or faith in oneself, in one’s own potential which can manifest as a kind of laziness. But I don’t think it’s properly called laziness.
The third one, which is called gross laziness, is actually a form of distraction. It’s where people work very hard but just at the wrong things: they get very rich, they get very powerful, they do horrible things, there’s no idea they are just lying around here. You see why I’m really not in favor of laziness here as a translation because one: we’re talking about things we would normally associate with lazy, just lying around, and doing nothing, daydreaming, frittering time away. And then the second one is a passivity or an inactivity which is coming from lack of confidence in one’s self or a lack of faith in one’s potential ability. Then the third one is an activity in spiritual [unintelligible] because to use Cheney’s phrase when he was asked what he did during the Vietnam war: “I had other priorities.” A very interesting statement.
So this business of working hard is remedying, this is really quite a broad spectrum of stuff that we’re looking at. Is this helpful to you? Are you getting, clarifying this at all?
Joe: So laziness in this sense is….
Ken: It’s inactivity or the wrong activity.
Joe: A failure to act in a certain direction.
Ken: Yes, that’s what I get out of it.
Joe: To go to the other term which is translated in the other book as virtue, as opposed to good and wholesome. Am I mistaken in thinking that there is a meaning to virtue which has to do with power? Earlier in English a virtue…
Ken: The Latin root for virtue is man, vir, the word for man. To be virtuous is to be a man in the true sense of being a man and that’s where the connection is with power.
Joe: Is that present in the Tibetan in the meaning we’re working towards?
Ken: Not not in any way. The Tibetan word is gewa. I don’t know the etymology of the Sanskrit at all for virtue.
But if you take a look at the Roman, the Latin, implicit in it is is that if a person wasn’t virtuous, they weren’t really human. That’s a pretty powerful thing to have operating in your culture. You’re not a full human being unless you’re virtuous. That’s quite powerful. Sorry but I can’t do anything on the Sanskrit or Tibetan.
Joe: It’s a little bit more helpful than good and wholesome.
Student: I can try to look up the Sanskrit.
Ken: If you want to sit right beside that speaker. There’s a speaker where Steve is sitting. Steve can you move over one and let Hugh sit there? Yes. Is that going to be better? Good. Thank you Mary.
Ken: Okay, so now we turn to the opposite of this term. And I think you’re quite right. It’s not acting in a certain way. But we may not have a single term for laziness in English as it’s being talked about here. How are we doing for time? Nine?
Armor, applied work, insatiableness. Armor, application and insatiable perseverance. The first one, is very straight forward, it’s the word for armor, like chain mail or leather armor, which is what they used in those days. When I read this, what I get from it armor is, of course, a metaphor. They’re talking about or Gampopa seems to be talking about a certain quality of determination so you are always making an effort, you’re always working at it in some way. Putting it another way, there are no vacations. Which is true in spiritual practice because spiritual practice is about being present in our lives and it’s meaningless to talk about taking vacations. It’s a work that we engage all the time.
Saying, “Well, do I have to?” That question doesn’t even arise. As soon as you stop, then the old habituated patterns take over and you have to deal with a mess afterward. So that to me is the idea here in armor. And you can read the quotations. A bodhisattva puts on armor in order to gather all beings around him. Since beings are infinite, so is his armor.
Now, the unfortunate connotation with armor is that it’s something that protects you from the world, from attack. I think it has to be understood here in a metaphorical way in that what it’s protecting from is your own tendency to be distracted or to dissipate your energy. That is what it is protecting you from. It’s not protecting you from the world around you. Randye?
Randye: I actually read that as support. Like providing a container in which the energy can be held.
Ken: I think that’s a perfectly good way to read it. Anybody else?
Joe: There seems to be a feeling of insignia or a…
Joe: A banner of truth, not a label but some marking.
Ken: A standard.
Joe: A standard.
Ken: Yeah. like a battle standard. We can explore the wave of the flag and all that. Obviously it’s using a kind of military metaphor here. It’s very interesting. Then we get this strenuousness or perseverance of application. And it talks about three efforts, three things to work at.
Ken: I think you’re beginning to see why I favor the term working hardas a rendering here. Because it works for the armor, it works for application, you’re going to work hard at three things.
And now we run into a whole host of translation problems: rejecting conflicting emotions, realizing the good and wholesome and to work for sentient beings.
Well, you guys have been working at this for a while. And Konchog Gyaltsen’s is to reject conflicting emotions. How good are you at rejecting conflicting emotions? Or reactive emotions? How good are you at getting at that?
Student: Maybe a little bit better at seeing them.
Cara: It just seems just like everyone else has gone, it’s really loud. I don’t like hearing myself like this.
Ken: We do.
Cara: Thank you. Did my mom tell you to say that? I think that people are getting better at pushing my buttons. The better I get, the harder it gets.
Ken: Excuse me. I just want to respond. It could be that or it could be that you are just more aware.
Cara: Coming back to your first question. I have been working really hard on some things that you told me to work really hard on and I’ve had some positive results with that, but I also know that when my buttons get pushed and I become impatient, I become incredibly rigid. And I actually have a pretty fluid form, I just kind of flounce through the world most of the time and I’ve noticed that when I get into that armored state, that it’s like I have skin made out of concrete and that’s when I become quite impatient.
Ken: Yeah, good, this is definitely increasing awareness. It gets a little more uncomfortable doesn’t it? Randye?
Randye: I don’t think I’m getting one iota better at avoiding conflicting emotions; however, I might be a teeny tiny bit better at recovering from the them a little quicker.
Ken: So this business about rejecting, avoiding is not accurate in terms of what actually happens. You can’t avoid them, you don’t even have control over whether they arise or not. Because we don’t have control of everything that happens. When something happens, bang. Anger can arise or desire. It’s just there.
Ken: What Gampopa is referring to here is: what is our relationship with the reactive emotion when it arises? Because there is nothing we can do about its arising. Now, rejecting or avoiding easily leads to the idea of suppression, which we know doesn’t work very well.
What I think is being referred to here at one level is not engaging it. But from a spiritual point of view. Not engaging it does not mean distancing. A lot of people would say not engaging means keeping a distance. It means experiencing it vividly, without distraction. And the more completely one experiences a reactive emotion, the less you express it or repress it. You don’t repress it or suppress it in the body and you don’t express it in the world. So that’s what actually this business of rejecting reactive emotions in practice it means experiencing very very completely when they arise. Because, to use your example, Cara, you’re beginning to notice the vividness of this. Like when you’re impatient. You’re really rigid. It’s not something you appreciate. As you continue to form a relationship and live with that level of awareness you are going to feel that rigidity. But because you are feeling it, you actually won’t be rigid. And you won’t have to push against the other person and your body won’t harden up in that way. And this is a bit of a paradox in a way. The more completely the more vividly we experience what is arising in us, the less it is expressed in life. And so you may feel like you are a complete bundle of reactive emotions but people will find you so responsive and attuned to them. You follow? Okay.
Ken: So this quotation from the Bodhicharyavatara on page 184 is what Guenther is talking about: When one is in the midst of conflicting emotions one must be firm in a thousandfold way, and not allow oneself to be assailed by them. Just as a lion will not allow jackals to attack him.
But again this is not one of opposition to them, but one of having a sufficiently high level of attention that this stuff can arise and just play itself out in one’s awareness without reacting to it. So both of them have this idea of enduring or something like that. That’s what I was trying to get at with the exercise about experiencing this stuff. When you experience it, that’s how you actually become free of it.
Ken: Then the second is the diligent effort, the strenuousness or working hard for the good and the wholesome or to accomplish virtue or however you want to translate this.
And here is where the real meat of the chapter is. He goes through these five ways. I prefer Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation on page 217. The first is making a constant effort, working hard at virtue. I’m going to translate this into somewhat simpler English. The first thing is consistency—you’re doing it all the time. The second is characterized as with devotion Guenther says here, joyfully, eagerly, quickly and I think that is closer. Persevering quickly with joy and happiness. The phrase that I was thinking of was whole-heartedly. So it’s consistent, it’s whole-hearted. I love the image: this elephant jumping into a pool.
Ken: How many of you know Kohler’s Pig? If you look up, go to allposters.com and look up S, O, W, A, Michael Sowa. One of his paintings shows a pig who has run off of a jetty and is jumping into a pond. And there is such a delightful expression of joy. Gail originally sent a card to me.
The pig has so much enthusiasm. He’s just diving into that pond. And I just think of us here. This is where the sense of enthusiasm comes. Because when we are enthusiastic about something, we pour our energy into it and we don’t think about it. We don’t regard it as hard work. That is the quality that is being talked about here, it’s not perseverance. It’s that pouring of energy into something because you’re enthusiastic about it.
Ken: Exuberant can go a little over the top, so I prefer enthusiastic.
Ken: The third links up with that very, very closely. When you are enthusiastic about something, you don’t get shaken by impediments or interruptions or things like that, or setbacks. You just say, okay, that’s what happened. Let’s keep going. That’s the quality and that’s why I’m favoring working hard at something.
Cara: When you say consistently, that’s like a buzzer for me. I think that’s really accurate.
Ken: The fourth is making effort without turning back. When you’re enthusiastic about something, nothing puts you off. It doesn’t matter what happens. You just find a way through. This not turning back is a finding a way through. We touched on a lot of this stuff when we did the Making Things Happen workshop some time ago. This is operating at the level of will. Remember that Joe, the attention, intention and will? What Gampopa is describing here is ideally something that’s operating at the level of will. Just gonna do it and it doesn’t matter what happens, you’ll find a way through or around or under, whatever you have to do. That’s that quality of not turning back.
And the fifth one is important. You’re not doing anything special. So there’s no basis for pride or arrogance or judgement which links up here. Often people who are working hard at something become somewhat inflated by their own efforts in subtle or in very obvious ways lord it over other people. This just happens to be something that you’re really enthusiastic about and there’s nothing particularly special so there’s no feeling of arrogance or superiority or pride associated with it. And what I hope you’re getting from my description here is the naturalness of this which you don’t find when you use such words as strenuous or persevere or effort. All of those don’t have that quality of naturalness, that’s why enthusiasm is really good to keep in mind here. Any questions on this?
Ken: Then the next part is the diligent effort to benefit sentient beings. This is working hard. And it refers back to the eleven qualities in Chapter 13. Which if you’re in Konchog Gyaltsen’s book you’ll find on page 199, section c.
These are the moral ethics of benefitting sentient beings. So these are to help others you support meaningful activities, dispel the suffering of those sentient beings who are suffering. I’m going to translate some of these. You engage people in things that are meaningful to them. Show them how to do it without struggling. Showing methods to people who don’t know them, that’s teaching them. Teaching them something they don’t know how to do. Recollecting other’s kindness and then repaying it. When we talk about repaying people’s kindness this should be understood fairly broadly. There are lots of instances of kindness, the kindness of our parents, the kindness of our teachers that we will never repay to those people. You will never repay your parent for all that they gave you so that you have a life. What you can do is take what was given through all of that and nurture other people’s lives. And that’s how you repay it. It’s not repaid back, it’s repaid forward. And that becomes very powerful.
Ken: One’s willingness to do that comes directly from appreciating what was given. So when people undertake spiritual practice, as their spiritual practice begins to take hold and they can really feel its value they often become concerned: “How can I thank my teacher, how can I pay him or her back for this?” Wrong way to think, in my opinion. So now you understand the value, so how do you light that candle, light that spark in somebody else, ignite, thank you, that’s good.
Protecting others from fears and dispelling the mourning of those who are suffering. You might say a little TLC. Providing people with security. It’s really, really important because it’s very difficult for people to practice and develop spiritually if their lives, their livelihoods are threatened. It’s a very important point.
Giving necessities to those who do not have them. Making provisions to bring disciples into the dharma community. Acting according to those pupil’s level of understanding. This is important. When one is teaching or providing any sort of guidance, you have to meet the person where they are. You can’t get ahead of them because then they just don’t understand what you’re talking about.
I was listening to when Red Auerbach, coach of the Celtics, died a few months ago. I think it was a few months ago, maybe it was last year. One of the quotations which I very much appreciated from him was: “It’s not what you say to the players that’s important, it is what they hear.” That’s really a good thing to remember, it’s not what you say to others, it’s what they hear, that’s what they’re going to act on.
Creating joy by reporting perfect qualities. This in a certain, I would interpret as celebrating people’s success, celebrating people’s efforts. What happens to you when someone celebrates your efforts? Cara?
Cara: My head gets really fat.
Ken: What else happens?
Cara: I’m actually working on this a lot now because I’m constantly begging for people, especially my partner, like when I shove lots of things at him on a constant basis. I just sit there and, “What do you think, what do you think?” You’d think that I was spending thousands of dollars, like my entire life hangs on his opinion and what he thinks and I do that with a lot of people. So I see that I’m a little too dependent on.
Ken: Well you can turn it around. What happens when your partner or somebody else says, “These are really really good.”
Cara: I get all smiley and stuff.
Ken: What happens in your body?
Cara: I don’t feel like I’m made out of concrete.
Ken: So you relax.
Ken: Does it inspire you to do more? You bring something home and your partner says, “This is just fantastic.” Do you get up the next morning and say, “I don’t want to go?”
Cara: For my roommate who is not a Buddhist and will never listen to this. There have been times when I’ve given her things and she likes them but makes a face at me and it makes me uncomfortable. It’s awkward.
Ken: So it’s not a real celebration.
Cara: I think it is a real celebration but for some reason her reaction freaks me out.
Ken: Are you comfortable with somebody celebrating your successes?
Cara: For the most part. I’m still dealing with my own surprise at what I can and can’t do.
Ken: Let’s hear from some others. What happens to you, Lynea?
Lynea: When it’s something I’m not very good at, or something I’m trying hard and it doesn’t come easily, I feel very encouraged, and it feels warm. When it’s something that comes relatively easy or something that I’m good at, I feel ashamed and guilty and wish they wouldn’t.
Ken: Why? What’s the difference?
Lynea: I feel there’s some sense of feeling bad at being good at certain things, it’s a big difference.
Ken: That would be interesting to explore. Anybody else? Randye.
Randye: It’s the best energy boost I know.
Ken: When people celebrate our successes or our efforts or something like that, it diminishes our sense of separation. We feel we have a place in the world, and there’s a joy that comes in it because somebody is taking joy in us. We feel a joy and that is energizing. Okay, Cara.
Cara: I think that’s where I tried that line. I love how articulate Lynea is, she’s got words and I ramble.
Ken: Now you’re making her feel ashamed.
Cara: Don’t you dare feel bad about that. I made a beautiful tart today in class, like it was perfect. And you know my chef is very French and he has a reputation for being a snob. But I made it and I was like, “Here come look at this.” I don’t know what I want him to do. Do I want him to high five me, to give me a sticker? I do.
Ken: You want somebody to celebrate you.
Cara: No, I don’t want somebody to celebrate me, I want him to celebrate me and when I don’t get that my little bunny ears go flop.
Ken: There’s some other stuff going on there, but I won’t go into that here. Quiet, we’ve got the psychologist, she’s got you analysed. The main point I’m trying to make is that when we celebrate others, we are actually planting the seed of power and joy in them so that they can go out and do things. That’s why a lot of us are not comfortable being celebrated because it makes us conscious of our own power. Other people love the feeling, there are various reactions.
Ken: Properly correct somebody who is doing wrong. I would like to translate this into giving people feedback. Learning how to give feedback correctly and doing so, so that people actually hear it and can use it, is a definite skill and is immensely useful to people. People will go on for years thinking they are doing things the right way and no one will ever tell them. But one needs to have the right situation, and have the right relationship and also be skilled in doing this. But I think the world would probably be a lot better place if people had more skill and would exercise it in this area.
Ken: And the last: refraining from creating fear with miracle powers. You laugh. I’ve seen it lately attributed to Arthur C. Clarke, but I thought the quotation originated from Issac Assimov: A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. That’s what I thought. A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic because you can’t understand how it happens.
So when natives saw people pick up a stick pointed at an animal 100 yards away and you hear this bang and the animal falls down, they thought this was magic. There’s still something a little magical for me when I type things into my computer and something changes on the web. How does that happen?
It’s actually the same in spiritual practice. When your level of attention, when you’re are able to be as present with your internal processes, with what’s arising in you as we were talking at the beginning of this class, you’ll find you’ll negotiate situations with an ease which will appear to other people as miraculous. How did you that?
I remember I was at a conference and it was a very small group, about eight of us I think. And a woman highly trained in her area said something that was just outrageous. Really, really disturbing. And one of the people in the group took her to task in the most skillful way. I was just floored. He expressed the outrage that he obviously was feeling and I think that several other people besides me, but there was no sense of blame, there was no sense of criticism. The skill with which he presented where he was, I just sat there, and it was like, “How did you do that?” It was like magic to me; that was his level of skill.
So you chuckle when it says refraining from creating fear with miracle powers, but as your ability to communicate and interact with people, people will think, I’d like to talk with her because she is just so on the money all the time. So l learning how to be quietly natural is also important.
Ken: Causing others to be inspired by the teachings. So those are the things you work at, because this is what moves people forward.
Section c: Insatiable perseverance. I hate this word insatiable because you usually associate that with something that is out of balance and that’s not what is is being referred to here. It goes further than consistency. It’s insatiable in the sense that nothing is ever enough, but not in the wrong way; it’s not referring to the hungry ghost greedy kind of thing. There’s such enthusiasm that you always want to do more. It’s not a poverty-stricken thing, which is what I get about insatiable here. There’s such a big hole in you that you can’t ever fill it up. That’s why I don’t like the term. It is that you have such enthusiasm that you want to do more. You always want to do more. It’s an expression of a flow of energy into things, not a sucking of energy into things. Question, Joe?
Joe: I’m trying to search for a way of thinking about this in the sense that you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking everything is completed. I have arrived.
Ken: Yeah, there’s always more to do. This is wonderfully expressed in the Zen version of the bodhisattva vow, which are known as the Four Great Vows:
Sentient beings are infinite in number, I vow to save them all. Reactive emotions are endless, I vow to vanquish them all. Dharma gates are numberless, I vow to enter them all. The great way is infinite, I vow to engage it completely.
So there’s, you’re working with the infinite here and you’re going to embrace the whole thing and you’re always going to do more and there’s always going to be more to do, we’re talking about the totality of our experience. The rest is usual stuff. These are developed or cultivated through the operation of pristine awareness or primordial wisdom supported by emptiness and compassion. All good things come from it. So that’s the perfection of strenuousness or working hard. Now what makes it a perfection is when you have no sense of working hard. You’re just doing it. So there’s no sense of working at anything.
Ken: Milarepa says when you’re never distracted, you have perfected working hard. The next one is the perfection of meditative concentration. Here I don’t like the use of the word concentration. I feel concentration is what you do to oranges. Make juice, it has this notion of squeezing down. You make it more and more dense. The Tibetan, I don’t know the Sanskrit, I think is better rendered as meditative stability. I think it’s just about stable attention. That’s what we’ll be doing next week.
What I’d like to do now is to give you something to work on over the next week. And that is to track your experience, what you actually experience when you feel enthusiastic about something versus when you’re having to work hard at something and you don’t feel enthusiastic. And just look at that contrast: enthusiasm, lack of enthusiasm. It can be in terms of your meditation and spiritual practice. It can be in terms of household chores, whatever you do to earn a living etc. Where there’s energy and enthusiasm, what’s that experienced like? Where there’s no energy and enthusiasm what’s that energy like? Just get a really good feeling for that. That’s what I’d like you to focus on for next time.
Hugh: I’m very glad I was here to share with you all this experience and I’m very grateful to you Ken for letting me come. I love what you said about enthusiasm. Enthusiasm comes from the Greek, entheos, in God. Enthusiasm is that sense of life, vitality and joy. And that’s something in my tradition, Catholic Christianity. We’re at a historical moment now where we need to recover this enthusiasm and sense of joy because too often we’re motivated by sheer duty, gritting our teeth. I mean those of us who take it seriously too often do it by gritting their teeth and I think the spirit of it needs to be recaptured. And I think that’s what the church is going through now, the process of recapturing the spirit and recapturing the enthusiasm of the faith. I think the eastern wisdom is going to be a very important part of that process for traditional Christianity to recover that enthusiasm. And the analysis of these basic themes of patience and perseverance and each of these wonderful concepts that we throw around so casually, all of these have to be recognized as nuggets of gold and we have to recapture that appreciation. And I think that’s what I’ve seen happening here tonight, is recapturing enthusiasm and the joy of belief in a higher being. So I’m very grateful and I appreciate the welcome that I feel from all of you. And thank you.
Ken: You’re very welcome and thank you. I didn’t know that enthusiasm had that etymology and I love etymology. And we’ll do the dedication, somebody asked for this to be recorded. They wanted to hear a dedication.
Through this goodness, may I come to complete knowing.
May the enemy, wrong action, be overcome.
From the stormy waves of birth, old age, illness and death,
This ocean of existence, may all beings be freed.
I do not cling in any way
To the virtue and goodness I have generated
In order that all beings may benefit from it
I dedicate it in the realm of totality
This virtue and all virtue gathered in the three times
I dedicate as all Buddas do
To supreme non-residing awakening
May I attain the state of union in this life
Awakening mind is precious.
May it arise where it has not arisen.
May it not fade where it has arisen.
May it ever grow and flourish.